Friday, August 28, 2020

Natural Awakening Without Intense Meditation - Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu has written about how to attain full awakening without a formal meditation practice.

He says cultivating spiritual well-being from generosity, good conduct, or the simple forms of meditation naturally leads to full awakening.

There are several stages in the process: spiritual well-being -> tranquility -> insight into the true nature of things (the 3 characteristics) -> disenchantment -> disentanglement -> emancipation -> purification -> nirvana. 

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu says generosity, good conduct, or the lower stages of concentration produces spiritual well-being. This leads to tranquility of mind. This tranquility of mind causes insight into the three characteristics to arise naturally. When one sees all things are inconstant, unsatisfactory, and not-self, disenchantment results and clinging begins to come undone. As clinging loosens, disentanglement occurs which culminates in emancipation from the objects of clinging. This results in final elimination of mental defilements or purity that produces nirvana.

He sums up by saying:

".. we simply encourage [nirvana] to come about of its own accord, naturally, by developing, day and night, the joy that results from mental purity, until the qualities we have described gradually evolve. ... We do it just by making our own way of daily living so pure and honest that there arise in succession spiritual joy, calm, insight into the true nature of things, disenchantment, disentanglement, escape, purification from defilements, and finally peace, nirvana."

Insight by the Nature Method
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

In the Tipitaka there are numerous references to people attaining naturally all stages of path and fruit. This generally came about in the presence of the Buddha himself but also happened later with other teachers. These people did not go into the forest and sit, assiduously practising concentration on certain objects in the way described in later manuals. No systematic effort was involved when arahantship was attained by the first five disciples of the Buddha on hearing the Discourse on Non-selfhood, or by the one thousand hermits on hearing the Fire Sermon. In these cases keen, penetrating insight came about quite naturally. These examples clearly show that natural concentration is liable to develop of its own accord while one is attempting to understand clearly some question; and that the resulting insight, as long as it is firmly established, is sure to be quite intense and stable. It happens naturally, automatically, in just the same way that the mind becomes concentrated the moment we set about doing arithmetic. The same happens when firing a gun. When we take aim the mind automatically becomes concentrated and steady.


Normally we completely overlook this naturally occurring concentration because it does not appear the least bit magical, miraculous, or awe-inspiring. But through the power of just such concentration, most of us could actually attain liberation. We could attain the path, the fruit, nirvana, and arahantship, just by means of natural concentration.


Now we shall see how concentration can come about, naturally


Now let us look at the nature of the stages of inner awareness leading to full insight into the world, that is, into the five aggregates (khandhas).

The first stage is joy (piti), mental happiness, or spiritual well-being. Doing good in some way, even giving alms, considered the most basic form of merit-making, can be a source of joy. Higher up, at the level of morality, completely blameless conduct by way of word and deed brings an increase of joy. We also discover that joy of a definite kind is associated with the lower stages of concentration.


This joy or rapture has in itself the power to induce tranquillity. Normally the mind is quite unrestrained, continually falling slave to all sort of thoughts and feelings associated with enticing things outside. It is normally restless, not calm. But as spiritual joy becomes established, calm and steadiness are bound to increase in proportion. When steadiness has been perfected, the result is full concentration. The mind becomes tranquil, steady, flexible, manageable, and at ease. It is then ready to be used for any chosen purpose, in particular for the elimination of the defilements.

It is not a case of the mind’s being rendered silent, hard, and rocklike. Nothing like that happens at all. The body feels normal, but the mind is especially calm and suitable for use in reflection and introspection. It is perfectly clear, cool, still, and restrained. This is quite unlike sitting in deep concentration. A deeply concentrated mind is in no position to investigate anything. It cannot practise introspection at all; it is in a state of unawareness and is of no use for insight.


The expression “insight into the true nature of things” refers to realizing transience (anicca), unsatisfactoriness or suffering (dukkha), and non-selfhood (anatta). It means seeing that nothing is worth getting, that no object whatsoever should be grasped at and clung to as being a self or as belonging to a self, as being good or bad, attractive or repulsive. Liking or disliking anything, even an idea or a memory, is clinging. To say that nothing is worth getting or being is the same as saying that nothing is worth clinging to. “Getting” refers to setting one’s heart on properly, position, wealth, or any attractive object. “Being” refers to the awareness of one’s status as husband, wife, rich man, poor man, winner, loser, or even the awareness of being oneself. If one can completely give up clinging to the idea of being oneself, then being oneself will no longer be subject to suffering.


When we have really come to perceive clearly that nothing is worth getting or being, disenchantment (nibbida) develops in proportion to the intensity of the insight. This is a sign that the clinging has become less firm and is starting to give way. It is a sign that we have been slaves for so long that the idea of trying to escape has at last occurred to us. This is the onset of disenchantment and disillusionment, when one becomes fed up with one’s own stupidity in grasping and clinging to things, believing things to be worth having and being.


As soon as disenchantment has set in, there is bound to come about a natural, automatic process of disentanglement (viraga), as if a rope with which one had been tightly bound were being untied, or a rinsing out, as when the dye that had been firmly fixed in a piece of cloth is removed by soaking it in the appropriate substances.


This process, whereby clinging gives way to a breaking free or a dissolving out from the world or from the objects of that clinging, was called by the Buddha emancipation (vimutti). This stage is most important. Though not the final stage, it is an essential step toward complete liberation. When one has broken free to this extent, complete liberation from suffering is assured.


Once broken free from slavery, one need never again be a slave to the world. One becomes pure and uncontaminated where previously one was defiled in every way. To be enslaved to things is to be defiled in body, speech, and mind. To break free from slavery to the delightful tastes of the world is to achieve a condition of purity and never be defiled again. This purity (visuddhi), once it has been attained, will give rise to a genuine calm and coolness free from all turbulence, strife, and torment. This state of freedom from oppression and turbulence was called by the Buddha simply Peace (santi), that is, stillness, coolness in all situations. It is virtually the same thing as nirvana.


... we simply encourage (nirvana) to come about of its own accord, naturally, by developing, day and night, the joy that results from mental purity, until the qualities we have described gradually evolve.


We do it just by making our own way of daily living so pure and honest that there arise in succession spiritual joy, calm, insight into the true nature of things, disenchantment, disentanglement, escape, purification from defilements, and finally peace, nirvana.

Other articles by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu:



Insight by the Nature Method describes a path taught by a qualified expert which is the most similar to my own form of practice that I have found up to now. I have an affinity for practicing in daily life rather than at a retreat center and my interest in Buddhism is more about how it can help the average person, rather than how a dedicated practitioner who meditates several hours a day and goes on retreats every year should practice.

Since I have followed a similar path, I think I can add some information that might be helpful to others who might want to try it. 

The state of tranquility can be experienced by most people through any type of relaxing meditation including but not limited to: samatha meditation, metta meditation, as well as relaxation exercises (which are a form of meditation) including relaxing forms of tai-chi, qigong, and yoga. This state of tranquility deriving from spiritual well-being is a pleasant relaxed mood and can have associated various spiritual feelings such as goodwill, compassion, humility, surrender, etc. If you have felt relaxed and calm after a yoga class, a guided meditation, or a guided relaxation exercise, this is what Buddhadasa Bhikkhu is referring to. Intense joy or rapture is not necessary. One of the definitions given for piti, which Buddhadasa Bhikkhu uses is "spiritual well-being" - that is sufficient.

What is described as "developing, day and night" is the effort to maintain the pleasant relaxed mood that arises from meditation throughout the day. I do this by trying to notice what things cause the mood to dissipate and what things help to produce and maintain it. Over time, one is able to maintain the state for longer and longer periods. It is important to understand that you don't have to be tranquil every waking moment, especially in the beginning, that is only an ideal to guide you and it is debatable whether even a fully awakened individual would be tranquil every waking moment.

Also the "all day" practice can be enhanced by 1) noticing when unpleasant emotions (dukkha, craving, aversion) arise by learning to notice the physical sensations in your body that accompany emotions, 2) trying to see how the three characteristics and clinging to the aggregates are involved in the arising of unpleasant emotions, and 3) also noticing what causes unpleasant emotions to dissipate. 4) Allowing yourself to feel emotional pain to help let go of it. (If you find emotions are too intense, you don't have to push this too hard.) This excerpt by Thanissaro Bhikkhu can be helpful for emotions that are hard to let go of. 5) Learning how diet can affect your mood. I find a diet lower in carbohydrates is very helpful in maintaining spiritual well-being.

What I mean by "unpleasant emotions that arise" is emotions that are caused by thinking or external circumstances, I distinguish these from some forms of emotions that are produced by biological factors (ie some forms of depression or anxiety) that might not be influenced by mental techniques like meditation and mindfulness.

The stages do not have to be mastered in order rather they are more like a pipeline where once you start to experience some aspect of one stage, you begin to experience its effect of producing the next. Because of this I think it is a truly gradual path where you can begin to experience some level of nirvana long before you experience full awakening. This is possible because of the way Buddhadasa Bhikkhu understands nirvana.

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